Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
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Where will you go in 2016? To help you plan epic adventures this year, we’ve put together a list of the top 50 destinations to Visit in 2016. Here, we’ve segmented it into the best places for those who prefer under-the-radar spots, less-visited destinations, and places that haven’t yet become popular with the masses. If you’re an intrepid adventurer who loves checking out new places and avoiding the crowds, browse our list of top off-the-beaten-path spots, or see the whole list of top 50 destinations here.
With a colorful mix of Caribbean and Spanish influences, Cartagena is a jewel on Colombia’s coast and it’s only getting hotter. Adding to established hotels like the Sofitel Cartagena Santa Clara and the new Anandá Hotel Boutique, brands like Ritz-Carlton are planting their flags in this historical city, adding the allure of luxury digs to an already desirable destination. Visitors to Cartagena are hard-pressed to decide their favorite elements of this historic city. From wandering through the streets packed with vibrantly colored buildings to walking the walls of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is no shortage of cultural offerings. Then there’s lounging on the white sands of nearby Islas del Rosario, exploring the multitude of bars and restaurants and dancing salsa into the night. Need even more reason to visit? The Colombian peso plunged in the last year, getting you more than 3000 pesos per dollar. That glass of sangria at sunset just got a bit sweeter.
See all things to do in Cartagena
Perhaps you’ve heard of the European Capital of Culture, a designation that highlights a few cities for one year. Italy has recently started its own similar effort, and Mantua is the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016. The Lombardy city’s historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007, and Mantua has long been an important city of art. Mantua (called Mantova in Italian) was ruled by the Gonzaga family for centuries, and they left behind sumptuous palaces, religious relics, and elaborately decorated churches. It’s the closest modern city to where Roman poet Virgil was born. Mantua will be part of the East Lombardy region’s designation as European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017. And it’s an easy day trip from either Venice or Milan.
Greenland has long been top of the wish list for adventurous travelers and there are few places on earth as compelling – a vast, glacial wilderness, where icebergs loom and polar bears roam. Until recent years, the world’s largest Island remained firmly off-the-beaten-track, but as arctic destinations like Iceland and Lapland surge in popularity, many intrepid travelers are now heading even further north. Greenland’s highlights are plentiful, from hiking and whale watching in summer, to dog sledding, glacier climbing and Northern Lights excursions in the winter. Not only that, but with increasing worries about climate change and the melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, there’s no time like the present to explore the UNESCO-listed icefjords. If you need another excuse to visit Greenland this year, the country will also be hosting the 2016 Arctic Winter Games in March, with events including skiing, snowboarding and ice hockey.
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For years, the only way to get to Chiloé, the large island about two-thirds of the way down Chile’s spine, was overland and by ferry, though this didn’t stop locals and travelers from heading down to the island all the same. People come to see wooden churches declared UNESCO monuments, the palafitos, or stilt houses, typical of the island, and to try local foods, like curanto, a beach-cooked clambake-type meal, with shellfish, sausages and two types of potato bread. Now that there are multiple weekly flights from Santiago (connecting in Puerto Montt) on a local airline, you could easily go to Chiloé for the weekend, where you can also stock up on thick woven and knitted woolen goods, as well as the local tipple, called licor de oro.
People use the phrase “Outer Mongolia” to refer to any far-flung destination, and many would have a hard time trying to picture any iconic sights of this country, or name the features of its nomadic culture. But discovering this off-the-beaten-path destination is more accessible to Western travelers now that Ulaanbaatar, its capital city, is getting a new luxury hotel. The five-star Shangri-La, with 290 rooms (that are the largest in town!) and fantastic dining options, has already started taking bookings for its opening in 2016. It’s in a prime location for shopping and sightseeing before setting out to play golf in the BogdKhaan Valley, trek in the Gobi Desert, or ride motorbikes through the Khan Khenty range.
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Hokkaido is the northernmost primary island in Japan, less-visited and far less populated than the rest of the country. The region is known for great hiking and some of Japan’s best hot springs, but it’s the winter season when Hokkaido really comes into its own. Although weather conditions can be harsh, Hokkaido in winter attracts millions with the world-famous Sapporo Snow Festival each February. People flock to see the hundreds of massive sculptures made from snow and ice, illuminated and aglow. Starting in March 2016, a new bullet train (shinkansen) service will connect Hokkaido with the rest of Japan, making this somewhat overlooked island far more accessible to visitors and residents alike.
See things to do in Hokkaido
These nine small Portuguese islands in the middle of the ocean lie between Boston and Lisbon. A history of lucrative whaling has given way to whale watching for tourists, with humpbacks and sperm whales common sightings, especially from Pico, an island named for the perfect peak that dots its center. Other points of interest on the islands include on Faial, where the Capelinhos volcano expanded the landmass from 1957-1958 by pumping lava up to the surface. On many islands there are shoulder-high walls protecting white grapes that are grown for Azorean wine, and the islands are also known for their tea plantations and several types of intensely-flavored cheese. In between there are winding drives up and down the lava flows and past numerous black and white churches, with (at least) one for every community. Now’s a better time than ever to visit the Azores, as prices on inter-island flights have fallen in the last year.
Discover the Azores
A pocket of tranquility beside the towering skyscrapers and glitzy resorts of the United Arab Emirates,Oman has long been dubbed the rising star of the Middle East. For 2016, Oman deserves an upgrade from stopover or day trip destination – instead, check into one of Muscat’s lavish hotels and set out to discover the endlessly fascinating country. From the lively souks and dazzling architecture of the capital to the desert dunes and traditional mountain villages, there’s plenty to see and do in Oman. Admire the magnificent Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Muscat, tour ancient Nizwa and visit the UNESCO-listed Bahla Fort. Alternatively, embark on an off-road adventure in the wild Hajjr Mountains, ride a camel through the dunes of the Wahiba Sands or plan a trip to neighboring Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
Try the less explored country of Namibia, a former German colony where English is the official national language and a mix of cultures give it an open, vibrant feel. Feast on exotic game meats and marvel at the German Imperial and Art Nouveau architecture in Windhoek, its capital. Experience wildlife during a visit to Etosha National Park or Waterberg Plateau Park in the north. Explore Kolmanskop, a beautifully creepy ghost town just outside Lüderitz, or the Skeleton Coast, the site of hundreds of shipwrecks – both equally a photographer’s dream. Or to get in touch with true wilderness, visit the truly untouched Kaokoland, a blend of rivers, desert and mountains that is nothing short of stunning.
Visit a less-discovered part of Latin America, in California-sized Paraguay, sometimes called the “heart of South America.” The vast Paraguay river divides the country, and the Paraná river, which also feeds Iguazu falls, is dammed at Itaipu, where visitors can take a guided tour to the this, the second most productive hydroelectric project in the world. Other highlights include visits to the UNESCO-registered Catholic missions in the town of Trinidad and nearby, dating to the 17th and 18th centuries. Nearby, you can also visit a mate plantation, where the grassy herbal tea you’ll see everyone drinking hot and cold out of gourds with sieved straws is cultivated. In between, listen for snippets of the indigenous language Guaraní, which nearly everyone speaks some of, in addition to the country’s other official language, Spanish.
The tiny country of Rwanda in central Africa has been steadily increasing in popularity as a tourist destination since the end of the horrific genocide in 1994, but it’s still nowhere near as visited as nearby countries like Tanzania or Kenya. One of the main tourist draws in Rwanda is its wildlife, and particularly its population of giant gorillas. Going on a safari trip to see the gorillas of Rwanda is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s especially thrilling since you can often get up close to the great animals. Pay your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial and then embrace a culture that’s not only survived but is now thriving..
Busan, South Korea
Seoul gets almost all the attention in South Korea, but there’s much more to the country. Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city, and as it’s also on the southeastern coast it’s also an important port city. One of the huge new Royal Caribbean cruise ships recently began sailing from Shanghai to Busan, and there is regular ferry service to and from Japan. The city is known for its beaches, parks, temples, and excellent shopping. It’s also home to some of the biggest hot spring resorts in all of Korea. But although Busan is certainly a tourist destination for Westerners, it’s far less visited than Seoul. Take advantage of South Korea’s exceptional tourist infrastructure and get off the usual tourist trail with a visit to Busan. .
12 Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations to Visit in 2016 by Katie Hammel from Viator Travel Blog
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